Inclusive education is important. That is why the education ministry’s plans for 12 schools with Special Education Needs (SEN) programme in the 12th Plan was received well. There are today 14 general schools with SEN programme and two special schools.
Our efforts to make Bhutanese education inclusive, however, may require some special focus and direction.
It would be a waste of our efforts if we succeeded in establishing SEN programme in the many schools in the country but failed to address the needs of the special needs children. The danger is when we bring children with specials needs together with regular students, compromises will have to be made given the many challenges our school system is confronted with today.
The bottom line is: there is a lot more we can and must do to make our education system inclusive. Otherwise, concentrating all or most of the people in the school system with special needs education could be opposite of inclusive. We could increase the number of schools with SEN programme, but that will hardly matter if we do not take care of other related needs facing the school system today. For example, we are in short not only of teachers with SEN training this day, but also of general teachers.
It has been found that most teachers with SEN programme do not have formal qualification in special education. Those that are there do not feel passionate about their job. For the SEN programme to succeed and to make our education system more inclusive, we will require more than just infrastructural makeup and basic training for teachers. More importantly, schools with SEN programmes need separate funds for the programmes.
Problems are already beginning to show. A teacher of Jigme Sherubling Central School in Khaling, Trashigang, said that differently-abled students from Muenselling Institute are facing the same challenges as the teachers are. At the same time, a teacher of Muenselling Institute said that the idea for integration may be good, but “we want to nurture our students from here at the institute. The support systems at the general schools for differently-abled students are not adequate.”
The sooner we respond to these challenges, the better. There is an urgent need to look at education, inclusive education in particular, in a broader perspective. And this will require, besides many important elements, meaningful capacity building and professional development for the service providers in schools with SEN programmes.
The idea of inclusive education, grand and beautiful as it is, could fall flat on its face otherwise.